Love that overcomes

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Does it ever occur to you that the foundation of the story of the world is love?

Love was carried on the breath of God as He spoke the world into being. He formed each aspect of it with tender care.

Love was perfect bliss in the garden of Eden, as God walked with man. The innocence of that communion at the beginning.

Love was God’s mercy as He spared Adam and Eve from immediate death, and clothed them before sending them on their way.

Love was God’s promise to Abraham, that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars scattered across the wide swath of Middle Eastern sky. Love was His special way of fulfilling that promise through the birth of Issac long past any reasonable hope. Because He specializes in unreasonable, crazy, extravagantly designed love.

Love was God’s rainbow, the promise of a new life He set in the sky after the great flood of destruction covered the earth.

Love was God’s deliverance of Israel from oppression in Egypt, dramatically displayed through the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea that held the people back from freedom.

Love was God’s patience as the people He had just delivered complained and grumbled again and again in the desert, and rebelled against Him even in the Promised Land. Love was His persistence in drawing them back to Himself through the prophets.

Love was even in the 400 year silence, as generations lived and died, wondering what next?

Love was in asking a young girl to participate in the impossible–in the incredible. To carry a child not conceived of human seed. To bring into the world the very God-man in the flesh.

Love was Jesus forsaking the glory of heaven and allowing Himself to be wrapped in the humblest form known to the universe–the fragile, wrinkled skin of a baby.

Love was God allowing His only Son to grow up in a home devoid of material comforts. Allowing Him to suffer the sharp words of those who hated Him. Allowing Him to bear every temptation known to man. Allowing Him to feel the bitter betrayal of a friend.

Love was exemplified for all eternity in the agony and injustice of the cross that Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to…for us.

Love broke through all the evil and hate and darkness in the world at that moment that was the climax of all of history. Love overcame sin and death.

Love is God walking with us today. Being with us in every moment, in ease and in pain, in joy and in sorrow, in laughter and mourning.

Love’s power is in selflessness. 

Did you ever realize that?

Love that is selfish is not love at all (1 Corinthians 13:5, “love is not self-seeking”).

The power of love is in laying down your life.

Love is choosing to forgive those who hurt you. Choosing to forgive those people whose words cut into your heart. Love is choosing to be patient with those who frustrate you day in and day out. Love is listening–to those you agree with and those you do not. Love is sharing your home, your heart, your things, your money, your time. Love is being there. Love is crying with the one who is hurting and laughing with the one who is rejoicing.

Love is choosing to live each day not in pursuit of your own will, your own choices, and your own comfort, but in pursuit of giving life to others. Love is laying down your own life through small and big choices so that others might find the hope of Christ. Love is recognizing that because God so loved the world, because God so loved youyou can give that love to everyone around you (1 John 4:8).

This is how love overcomes.

This is how love wins, every single time:

Climbing high upon a tree where someone else should die.

This is how love heals the deepest part of you:

Letting Himself bleed into the middle of your wounds.

“How Love Wins” from The Story

Love that overcomes isn’t painless or easy or pretty. But though it is painful, it is simple, and it is beautiful. Love that overcomes is the love with which God saved us, and it is the love He fills us with each day to walk in new life. The foundation of life is love. And the rest of the story is what we choose to do with it.

Dear friend, do you know the love that overcomes? Has your life been washed to its very core by the love that is the foundation of the world? If not, I pray you’ll accept it, and let the hurt you’ve been carrying fall away. If so, let us extend that love to others. May we let it transform every part of us anew each day, as it is meant to. May we live our lives as vessels of that love that overcomes the world.


1 John 1:29 “…Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Joy of every longing heart

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Have you noticed how our hearts long for things?

We long for–or crave–certain kinds of food, certain possessions, and so on…but above all, we long for things intangible.

We long for peace. Hope. Satisfaction. Joy. Love.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

From the dawn of humanity, we have longed. Our story is one of yearning for something beyond ourselves.

cs-lewis-quote-desire
(via)

But our sin kept us from being able to experience this hope and peace and fulfillment. We were destined to spend our lives hurting and groaning with unrest. The story of the world would’ve been an unimaginable tragedy.

But God.

God heard our groanings. He felt the relentless pull of our yearning. His love was so great for us that He orchestrated a grand plan of redemption.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

He sent His Son to be our deliverer. Our perfect substitute.

He sent Jesus to die. A baby born to die, He has been called, and rightly so. Sometimes I wonder if and how He knew about that while growing up. How did He, fully human, bear the weight of knowing what His future held? 

The night He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane–He trembled at it all. Yet He proceeded onward to the cross of Calvary, bearing in heart and mind you and me.

I started a tradition last year of writing every single one of my coworkers a Christmas card, designed to share the message of hope and also a personal word of encouragement. The beautiful cards I picked this year contain this message:

His destiny was the cross…

His purpose was love…

His reason was you.

This, my friends, is the message of Christmas. It is not a cute manger scene. It’s not a sugar-sweet fairytale. It’s the sobering beginning of the end. But it’s not dark. Its seriousness does not at all take away from the joy and hope of that night in Bethlehem when the Savior of mankind entered the world as a tiny baby, wrapped in human flesh.

He came to set us free–free from our fears and sins. Free from our shame and guilt. Free from the darkness that surrounds us and would devour us whole.

He came to give us rest. To be our strength, our comfort in troubling times.

He came to be the hope of a world gone without hope for far too long.

He came to deliver us, and to reign in us forever. To be the life-changing leader of our existence.

And in His coming, he became the joy of every longing heart. This, this is the peace He brings to earth. Not the peace of a world at rest, devoid of harm. No, that peace is still to come. But He brought rest to our ever-yearning hearts. He brought us satisfaction and hope in Him. This is the beauty of Christmas. And it’s something I find myself awed over anew each year.

Merry Christmas! May your Christmas this year be a celebration of the Savior who brought us peace.

Be content

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Contentment.

It’s something I think we would all agree is lacking in the world today, especially in first-world countries, who, ironically, have so much.

Often, we equate being content with happiness. We chase happiness hoping to find contentment. How do I know we aren’t just looking for happiness, as everyone says? Because happiness is fleeting. And we know that. We experience moments of happiness, but we aren’t satisfied. We’re looking for a happiness that stays with us. We’re looking for satisfaction in the form of contentment.

Even if we are content in respect to our basic needs and material wants, we often struggle to be content with our current situation. We’re constantly wishing things would move a little faster, or smoother–wishing they would just go the way we want. And when they don’t…we are discontent.

What exactly is contentment? The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it as “internal satisfaction which does not demand changes in external circumstances.” Contentment is an attitude, a state of the heart. It involves being satisfied–not demanding changes in external circumstances, but rather trusting and accepting God’s directing in your life.

Paul writes about contentment in Philippians, from his position chained 18 inches away from a guard, under house arrest. Wow. Talk about a guy who knew the true meaning of contentment. Paul understood that even though his external circumstances were less than thrilling, God had a plan and a purpose for them. In Philippians 1:12-14, Paul explains how his chains have actually served to further the gospel: the guards he has been chained to day and night have witnessed his contentment and peace and hope and gentleness. The gospel has spread throughout the palace as a result. Even the other Christians in churches Paul ministered to have become emboldened to speak the gospel.

Later on in his letter, Paul explains that he had learned to be content. This is an important concept to note. We aren’t born content, and we don’t suddenly become content later on in our lives. We don’t reach some point of attainment. It’s something you have to learn. And how do you learn to be content? Through life’s trials and hardships. In the ups and downs. In the times you have, and the times you have not (Philippians 4:10). You won’t “get it right” every time. It takes practice to develop an attitude and heart of contentment.

But what about happiness? Remember at the beginning when I said we chase happiness to find contentment? Well, you might ask, how could Paul be happy in these circumstances, even if he knew they were having some positive results? Here’s the thing: Contentment isn’t actually about being happy with your circumstances. It’s about being focused on the God who doesn’t change. 

My youth pastor gave a wonderful illustration of this. In a fun house he visited, one of the illusion rooms was set up to look like the entire room was doing barrel rolls, with only a small walkway through. If you let yourself look at the walls, you were constantly feeling the urge to duck and turn and stumble (and possibly lose your lunch). But the key to getting out was to fix your eyes on the light of the doorway, and walk straight ahead.

Friend, when all the world is spinning about you, fix your eyes on the God who doesn’t change. James 1:17 refers to God as the Father of lights, “with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.” He is the Creator of the sun, moon, and stars…but He does not change as they do. He is the Author of the seasons…but He does not shift as they do.

Can I ask you something? Are you content with the plans God has for you? Not just His plans for the future, but your future. Not just His plans for your future, but for your present. Are you content with where He has you right now–with the circumstances He has you in today? Are you content with the things He is teaching you?

To be honest with you, lately I have not been content with my todays. I’ve gotten caught up in stress and frustration, and have asked God why it’s so hard for me to stay focused and make it through school and life in general. I’ve been discontent with the interruptions to my day and the facets of my life that prevent me from making things go the way I prefer. Sometimes, I even look at others’ lives and wish this aspect or that aspect of my life was more like theirs. I tend to wish my life was easier.

But God didn’t call me to live an easy life. He’s not interested in making my life smooth and painless. He’s interested in making me like Jesus.

We often quote Romans 8:28…but we forget verse 29.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. – Romans 8:28-29

What was God’s predestined plan for us? What was the purpose for which we were called? That we “be conformed to the image of his Son.” The circumstances in our lives are there to teach us to be content. 

Instead of fighting my circumstances the whole way, and complaining about them to anyone who will listen, I need to recognize that this is God’s plan for me. I must believe that He is using this for my good. And trusting Him allows me to be content, no matter what the circumstances may be.

I want to point out one last thing. Philippians 4:13 is another verse we often quote out of context. You know the one. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The context is contentment. It is given as Paul’s secret of being content.

We can’t do this on our own. But the good news is, God never asked us to.

Trust Him. Really trust His plan. And you will find yourself able to be content, no matter the situations you find yourself in.


Partially inspired by my youth pastor’s incredible message on contentment, which you can listen to here.

Equipped for action (2 Timothy study week 3)

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Welcome back to the blog Bible study! If you need to catch up, here is the introduction post and here’s chapter 2 from last week.

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. The word of God goes forth through teaching, and will not be bound.
  2. Truth dynamically impacts the Christian’s life by calling him to pursue righteousness.
  3. Zealously study the truth and handle it with grace, avoiding foolish arguments.

Today we’ll be studying 2 Timothy 3. Take a moment right now to read it before you continue.

Here are the main points I observed in today’s chapter.

1. Perilous times and ungodly individuals

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” So begins Paul’s warning to Timothy in this third chapter. He’s not only talking about the future, but also the present. In verses 2 through 5, Paul describes the kind of people who will infiltrate the church. Here’s a rundown.

  • Lovers of their own selves (selfish)
  • Covetous
  • Boasters
  • Proud
  • Blasphemers
  • Disobedient to parents
  • Unthankful
  • Unholy
  • Without natural affection (not caring about others)
  • Trucebreakers (breaking promises and not honoring agreements)
  • False accusers (slanderers)
  • Incontinent (without self control)
  • Fierce (lovers of violence)
  • Despisers of those that are good
  • Traitors
  • Heady (headstrong and rash)
  • Highminded (arrogant)
  • Lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God
  • Having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof

Yikes. What a list. Let’s take a step back and look at these for a minute. Some of the characteristics on this list are a little surprising. Disobedient to parents? Unthankful? We don’t usually think of these are grievous sins. And yet, here they are listed among traitors and despisers of those that are good. And take a look at that last one–“having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” That means going through the motions of religion without allowing the truth to change your heart. Following that last characteristic, Paul instructs, “from such turn away.”

These aren’t people from the world Paul is talking about. He’s referring to people in the church, people who call themselves believers. People who know all the right answers and put on a good Christian smile, but don’t allow the truth to change their lives.

“From such turn away.” In a way, these people are more dangerous than those outside the church’s circle. Why? Because they look like believers. They seem trustworthy and admirable. And they lure true believers away from the truth (see verse 6).

I want to point out one more chilling characteristic, described in verse 7. “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Throughout the book of 2 Timothy (and, indeed, many of Paul’s letters), the phrase “knowledge of the truth” refers to the believing and accepting the truth of salvation. What Paul is saying here is there are people who are constantly learning about the world, and yet never come to recognize the truth of His salvation. It seems to perfectly describe the plight of scholars, scientists, and students who are always learning, but do not accept God’s truth.

As he closes out this section, Paul mentions Jannes and Jambres, the names given to two Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses. Paul compares false teachers to the magicians, and says they are “reprobate concerning the faith” (v.8). However, he offers a word of consolation: “…Their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs [Jannes and Jambres’] also was” (v.9).

Upon examining your own heart, do you see any of the characteristics listed here? Are you careful not to be lead away by anyone and everyone who claims to be a follower of God? Who do you know that always seems to be learning, yet not arriving at a knowledge of the most important truth of all?

2. Continue in what you have learned

After that sober description of people to beware of, Paul begins to paint a dynamic contrast. “But thou”–he begins verse 10. He reminds Timothy of how he has “fully known” Paul’s doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity (love), and patience. All things that should be an example to Timothy. But then he takes a bit of a turn, and mentions how Timothy also fully knows the persecutions and afflictions Paul has suffered. Continuing a theme from chapter 1, Paul states that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (v.12). However, he reminds Timothy that the Lord delivered him out of them all.

In verses 13 and 14, Paul portrays one more contrast: evil men will grow worse and worse; deceiving and being deceived (v.13). But Timothy he urges to continue in what he has learned and has been what? Has been assured of. This assurance is the same used back in chapter 1 verse 12, where Paul declares “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able…”

Paul is reiterating to Timothy that these aren’t just things someone has taught him, and he believes because “why not.” The gospel is something he is assured of, something he has examined the evidence for and knows to be true.

There are always going to be people who say they’re Christians but don’t act like it. The world is going to grow worse and worse. But you. But us. We will continue in what we have learned, what we know to be true. We will continue to be faithful. And that’s what matters.

Are you prepared to suffer persecution? Are you continuing in what you have learned and been assured of?

3. God’s inspired word equips us

Paul reminds Timothy that he has known the scriptures from the time he was a child, and that these scriptures are able to make a person “wise unto salvation” through faith in Christ Jesus (v.15). There’s that “knowledge of the truth,” again. Clearly, we receive the knowledge of the truth we need through the scripture.

Paul continues to defend the scriptures, saying that all scripture is given by inspiration of God. This is a very good place to point someone who claims that only parts of the Bible are true. Not only does Paul affirm the truth of the scriptures here, he also explains the purpose of them. Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” and for what purpose?

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Those words “thoroughly furnished” come from the Greek word for accomplished, completed. Obviously, we are not going to become perfect in the sense of without sin here on earth, but God’s word has the power to grow us and complete us–to prepare us and equip us for life in this world. 

Are you studying the scriptures God has given you? Are you not just reading the words, but letting their power work in your life? Are you using the Bible like the tool it is?

Let’s recap:

  1. We’re living in dangerous times, and ungodly individuals infiltrate the church. How’s your character looking? What kind of protections do you have in place so that you aren’t carried away by something that “sounds good”?
  2. After detailing the characteristics of those who are false believers, Paul encourages Timothy to continue in the way he has been walking, remembering what he has learned and been assured of. How can you encourage others to keep following God, even when persecution strikes?
  3. Paul clearly states that all of the scriptures are God’s inspired word, and explains how it can be used. Do you treasure God’s word? How has God’s word equipped you to take action?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 3 in the comments below! See you next week as we wrap up this study!

Truth’s dynamic impact (2 Timothy study week 2)

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Welcome back to the blog Bible study! If you missed last week’s introduction, you can catch up here.

Here’s a quick review of last week’s main points:

  1. Paul praises Timothy for his sincere, wholehearted faith.
  2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has equipped us with, so that we need not be ashamed.
  3. Paul emphasizes the crucial importance of having sound doctrine.

Today we’ll be going through 2 Timothy 2. Take a moment to read it before you continue.

Here are the main themes I gathered from this chapter.

1. The word of God goes forth through teaching

After continuing to encourage Timothy in the call to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v.1), Paul instructs Timothy to commit the teachings of the faith to “faithful men,” so they could in turn teach others (v.2). How did you learn about God? Someone had to teach you, obviously. But did you know that you don’t have to wait to be an adult or a Bible college graduate to teach others about God? You can start teaching what you’ve learned to others right now. Start a conversation about what you’ve been learning from God’s word recently with a friend or two. Host a Bible study of your own. Be a student of God’s word so you can answer questions others have (more on that later).

I also want to point out verse 9, where Paul makes a powerful statement. He says that although he is in bonds, “the word of God is not bound.” Despite the great leader of the Christian faith spending his days locked up, the word of God continues to go forth. God will accomplish His purposes, no matter what kind of circumstances seem to be in the way.

2. How the truth impacts the Christian’s life

Paul uses some vivid illustrations to portray the need for holiness in the Christian’s life. In verses 3 and 4, he describes a soldier enduring hardness and not letting himself get caught up in trivialities of life. As the solider has a single-minded focus, Paul implies, so we should keep our focus on God and push away distractions that don’t have eternal value.

In verse 5, Paul talks about an athlete who must follow the rules in order to claim his prize. We cannot live as we wish and still expect God to be pleased at the end of the day. God takes holiness seriously.

In verse 6, Paul concludes by mentioning a farmer who receives the fruits (literally) of his labor. Paul reminds Timothy that living God’s way brings treasures in heaven.

Later on in the chapter, verses 20-22 offer another illustration, this time of a house containing many vessels. If you get rid of the evil, dishonoring vessels, you will be “a vessel of honor, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work” (v.21). Verse 22 continues this theme, as Paul instructs Timothy to “flee youthful lusts” and instead pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace—but not alone! Paul emphasizes that Timothy should take on this quest “with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

How does the truth of God’s word impact your life in visible, practical ways? Who are you joining with to pursue righteousness?

3. How to properly handle the truth

(or, a primer in Christian debate and apologetics)

This theme is one of my favorites in this letter. If you’ve hung around my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed by now that apologetics and reasoning are topics I’m particularly interested in. Well, in this chapter, Paul has several things to say about arguments, debate, and defense of the truth.

First, let’s cover his warnings. Verses 14, 16, and 23 all contain warnings about arguments. Paul tells Timothy to make sure his church members “strive not about words to no profit” (v.14), “shun profane and vain babblings” (v.16), and avoid “foolish and unlearned questions” (v.23). Clearly, some people were having trouble recognizing when to stop arguing! But let’s take a closer look at why Paul gives these warnings. The reason he gives for shunning vain babblings is that “they will increase unto more ungodliness,” and the reason to avoid foolish and unlearned questions is because they cause strife and division—not good things to have, especially in a church.

If we’d only read these verses, I think we’d be pretty well scared off from having any kind of verbal conflict. But that’s definitely not what Paul’s goal is here. He’s simply instructing us to avoid unprofitable and divisive squabbles.

Verse 15 tells us how we should handle the truth and the spreading of it.

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

We learn a few things from this verse. First of all, we need to put effort into the truth. The word “study” here does not only means actual studying; more literally it means “be zealous for.” We are not to have a halfhearted commitment to the truth—it’s the truth! It’s the foundation of all we think, believe, and are! Surely that merits our passion.

Secondly, if we study the truth, we will understand it and be able to explain it correctly. And if we explain it correctly, we will not need to be ashamed. In verses 17 and 18, Paul mentions two men who were apparently spreading false teachings. He says “concerning the truth [they] have erred” (v.18), and then mentions the devastating effects of this error: the faith of some has been overthrown.

These verses serve as both an encouragement and a sobering warning of the disastrous consequences of mixing the truth with error.

Lastly, in verses 24 and 25, Paul describes the characteristics of those who would teach the truth:

And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth.

Did you catch that at the end? We are to share the truth with others who oppose us patiently, with meekness, so that they may acknowledge the truth and repent. Our goal isn’t to “win,” to be right, and to make ourselves look good. It’s to urge people towards repentance, towards restoration with God.

Whew! That’s a lot we covered. To summarize, we must be careful to avoid pointless arguments, we must study the truth passionately, and we must keep a proper heart motive for sharing the truth with others. How are you making studying the truth a priority in your life? Are you being careful to keep your confrontations tempered with patience, gentleness, and meekness?

Let’s recap:

  1. Despite obstacles or opposition, the word of God will continue to go forth through faithful teachers. Who are you teaching about God? What could you do to create or make use of opportunities to share the truth you’ve learned with others?
  2. Truth isn’t just relegated to philosophy—it dramatically impacts our lives. How is your life different after exposure to God’s truth? Who are you partnering with on your journey to righteousness?
  3. There’s a right and a wrong way to handle the truth. Are you careful to avoid useless arguments? Are you constantly studying the truth?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 2 in the comments below!

 

Be not ashamed (2 Timothy study week 1)

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Hey, y’all! Welcome to the first day of my first blog series. I’m borrowing an idea from my friend Amanda Beguerie and hosting a blog Bible study for the next several weeks. The way it works is simple: I’ll be posting my study of the week’s passage on Tuesdays (hopefully) with a list of questions for discussion and further study. Then you do a little digging of your own and answer them in the comments or in your own study post (leave a link in the comments!), and we all learn from God’s Word together! Fun, right?

I’d like to start off with a little introduction of 2 Timothy, the book we’ll be studying. This book is the last published letter Paul wrote before he was executed in Rome, with a generally accepted date of 66 A.D. Unlike most of Paul’s letters, 2 Timothy is written to an individual, in this case, a young pastor—kind of Paul’s protégé in the faith. The letter takes on an exhortative tone, but is unique in that it is incredibly personal. In it we read Paul’s sorrow for those who have forsaken the faith, and his tiredness and readiness to go home to be with God.

Before I begin with lessons from chapter 1, take a moment to read it through. See if you detect Paul’s emotions and focus as he writes to Timothy.

I’d like to highlight three main lessons from 2 Timothy 1:

1. Paul praises Timothy’s unfeigned faith

Even a glance at this passage makes it obvious Paul greatly cares for Timothy. In verse 2, he calls Timothy his “dearly beloved son.” In verse 3, Paul tells Timothy he prays for him “night and day.” And in verse 4, Paul expresses a desire to see his young friend.

In verse 5, Paul goes beyond expressions of love and friendship, and mentions Timothy’s “unfeigned faith.” What does unfeigned mean? It means sincere, genuine, honest, and wholehearted. Paul is saying Timothy isn’t putting on a “good Christian” show—his heart is right.

It’s all too easy to slip into going through the motions, isn’t it? Are you careful to check the motivations in your heart for your actions?

2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has given us to accomplish it

Paul reminds Timothy that God has “saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace” (verse 9). What is our calling? To spread the gospel and bring glory to God. It sounds simple, perhaps even easy, but we know in reality such is not the case.

Paul is writing this letter from a Roman jail cell. It’s near the very end of his life, and he has suffered countless abuses for the sake of the gospel. He knows it’s not easy to take a stand and speak up. That’s why he encourages Timothy that God has equipped us for the trials we will face by sending the Holy Spirit. I love verse 7:

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

He continues, saying, because of this Spirit God has given us, we are not to be ashamed of “the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner” but instead be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel. The Greek phrase for “be a partaker of the afflictions” means to suffer hardship as one with. It carries the idea of joining in unity with others who are also partakers. Paul is reminding Timothy, “You’re not in this alone.”

In verse 12, after beautifully describing the gospel, Paul powerfully states why he is not ashamed of it:

For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

I recently learned that the word “believed” here is so much more than just a “blind faith.” It is closely related to the word “persuaded” following it here; it has the meaning of being convinced of the truth of something, of placing confidence in something. It’s not just a hopeful guess. It’s a certainty. What Paul is saying here is that he is absolutely sure he can trust God to keep what he has committed (his soul—see Luke 23:46 and 1 Peter 4:19) until the end of time.

Wow. Talk about a firm foundation. Are you absolutely persuaded that God is trustworthy? If you’re going to fulfill your calling and be a partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, you’re going to have to have rock-solid certainty.

3. Paul emphasizes the importance of the gospel and sound doctrine

Paul concludes this chapter by urging Timothy to hold fast to “the form of sound words” (verse 13), which is doctrine, and to keep (hold secure, protect) “that good thing which was committed unto thee,” which is the gospel. As previously mentioned, in verses 9 and 10, Paul briefly but powerfully states the gospel, and how it is crucial to our life and calling.

The importance of steadfast faith and consistent preaching of sound doctrine is a theme that will continue to come up later in this letter. Paul really wanted to emphasize to Timothy the critical necessity of standing firm when others fall away, as he briefly notes in verse 15.

How careful are you to keep your doctrine straight and pure? Is it “sound”—would it hold up to being shaken or dragged hither and yon in the storm of competing ideas in the world today? Are you taking care to remember the importance of the gospel for which we sacrifice our lives?

Let’s recap:

  1. Paul praises Timothy for his sincere, wholehearted faith. Is your faith sincere, without hidden motives and masks?
  2. Paul explains our calling and the Spirit God has equipped us with, so that we need not be ashamed. Are you absolutely sure, heart and mind, that God is trustworthy? Are you living unashamed of the gospel?
  3. Paul emphasizes the crucial importance of having sound doctrine. Do you know the doctrines of the faith? Are you careful to keep those central values sound, unshakeable by the world?

Share your answers to these questions and what you learn from 2 Timothy 1 in the comments below!

Living integrified

Living integrified.png

It’s interesting how God helps us grow. We ask Him to make us more patient, He gives us opportunities to be patient. Uncomfortable, annoying opportunities. We ask Him to make us solid through and through, a person of integrity, and He puts us in tough situations where we want to compromise.

I was supposed to work 4-9 the other day, with a break. Now, that’s an odd shift, because it doesn’t make much sense from a business standpoint, but I just shrugged and said to myself, “Hey, I’ll take an easy shift.” Well, I walked into work at 3:57 and checked the daily schedule sheet. Instead of 4-9 next to my name, there was a 4-8. With no break.

Did anyone call me and tell me about this? No. No notice whatsoever. And I hadn’t eaten anything since 12:30. I was a little annoyed. This wasn’t the first time this has happened. But I took a deep breath and tried to calmly talk to the manager on duty about it. She was understanding and apologized. And then she offered to let me eat something on the clock, in the back out of the way somewhere. Now, I had a choice to make.

Integrity–doing the right thing even when your manager is going to let you go ahead and do something you really want to do, but can’t in good conscience.

That’s how we grow.

So I thanked her for her thoughtfulness, but said, “I can’t do that.” She just shrugged and that was that. I worked hard through my shift and pressed on when my stomach started growling. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t feel great or righteous doing it. But that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Doing right no matter how you feel about it at the time.

What exactly is integrity? One of the definitions of having integrity is being whole, undivided. That’s the definition we use for a piece of pottery or a wall. “It was well made; it had integrity.” But it applies to people as well. Integrity is being undivided in your life. You walk what you talk. You do what’s right even when you won’t necessarily get in trouble for doing the wrong thing.

Why is integrity important? Because if I’m going to tell people to be honest, I have to be honest. That’s being whole. Without cracks. Undivided in my loyalties. Jesus said you cannot serve both God and money (or, really, yourself). You have to choose. And not just hypothetically, in your heart, saying “Yes, God, I’ll serve You.” He will test that decision through opportunities like the example I shared. He wants to refine us. And when we choose to do right even when it doesn’t seem to make sense, we stand out as stars in the blackness of the sky. Not every decision to act with integrity is going to be witnessed by others, but plenty will be. And that tells people around us that we are committed to doing right even when it seems crazy to do so. “But it’s just some food,” one coworker said to me in confusion. “What’s the big deal? She was going to let you do it.”

While eating food on the clock may not be a “big deal,” my response to the offer absolutely was in God’s eyes. There’s no such thing as a “little compromise” in God’s book. And the last time I checked, He made the rules. It’s God who gets to judge what’s a big deal.

The stories of Daniel and his three friends carry the theme of integrity pretty strongly. We admire and respect them for their refusal to compromise and bow down to the king’s idol. But sometimes we forget that in order to stand firm on the big things, we need to be in the habit of acting with integrity in the small things.

You may see only small opportunities to stand up and stand firm in your life, but that is how God grows us. Be faithful in the “little” things, and He will entrust you with far greater things. Realize that God doesn’t measure our devotion to Him in size or “greatness” of actions. He cares about our hearts.

What ways can you see God working in your life?

Ideas have consequences

Ideas have consequences

Before we get into what to do with ideas and viewpoints, we have to establish a foundation of what those are and how they affect the world around us.

First of all, let’s define worldview. If I were to ask one of you “What is a worldview?” chances are I’d get at least one smart-aleck who would answer, “It’s a view of the world.” And of course, they would be right. (Don’t you just hate when smart-alecks actually have the right answer?) But let’s get a little more specific.

According to John Stonestreet, a leader in apologetics and worldview, a worldview is “the framework of basic beliefs we have (whether we know it or not) that shapes our view of and for the world.”

The important thing to notice here is that worldview is twofold. It shapes two different aspects of our life: Our view of the world and our view for the world.

First, our worldview is descriptive of reality. It’s a mental image of what is real. It’s our perspective. When a small boy looks at his parent, the parent seems like a giant. From the child’s frame of reference–he had to tilt his head back really far to see the parent’s face–the parent is huge. However, the parent doesn’t feel like a giant. From the parent’s perspective, there are several other adults his size or even taller. Is the child wrong? Is the parent wrong? Well, there’s a dilemma called relativism. We’ll come back to that in an upcoming post, so keep an eye out!

Second, our worldview is our view for the world–it is prescriptive for how we live. If we perceive someone as easily angered, we will adjust our behavior to avoid setting them off. If we view people as out to get us, we will be suspicious of every action they take towards us, even if it seems good. If we consider people to be nothing more than the product of evolution, having come about by random processes, we have no reason to treat them well. See where this leads?

G.K. Chesterton once said, “A man can no more possess a private religion than he can possess a private sun and moon.” As the sun and moon affect the lives of every creature on the planet, religion–or, worldview–affects every aspect of a person’s life and others’ lives as well. It’s absolutely crucial to realize that people’s ideas about the world aren’t just harmless opinions. Ideas have consequences.

The 20th century was a huge example of just how big the consequences of ideas can be. At the beginning of the century, optimism was high. Humankind had been “enlightened” by science, and science was going to fix everything. It was clear that God had no place in either the beginning of the world or the sustenance of it. Evolution was king, and the best way to fix all the world’s problems was to help natural selection out by getting rid of the weak and others unfit for survival.

We all know how the rest of the story goes. The rise of Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s communist Russia caused the fall of millions upon millions of human beings. At the end of both regimes, an estimated 120 million people had lost their lives as a direct result of the ideas of Hitler and Karl Marx (the creator of communism). Far from utopia, the 20th century was a bloodbath of devastating proportions. Clearly, it matters which ideas and which worldview you possess. It’s not a question of sincerity. Hitler was plenty sincere. He was an incredibly dedicated man. But he was whole-heartedly dedicated to the wrong thing.

Here’s a thought: You can tell a lot about what someone thinks is the problem by what they offer as the solution. Marx thought the problem with the world was the separation of classes in society, so he thought that eliminating the economic differences between people would solve all the conflict. Instead, it resulted in the great oppression and poverty of the masses, while the ruling elite lived like pigs. However, if the problem with the world is each individual’s sin, it makes sense that the problem can only be solved by the taking away of the sin of the world and changed lives.

A person’s worldview is made up of answers to five big questions about reality:

  1. Origin–Where did we all come from?
  2. Identity–What is a human being? What makes them who they are?
  3. Meaning–What is the purpose in our existence? What’s the point?
  4. Morality–What is right and wrong, and how do we know that? Or, what’s wrong with the world?
  5. Destiny–Where is history headed?

How you answer one question affects how you answer another. If, for instance, you answer the origin question by saying we all evolved from bacteria, our identity then lies in our random genetic makeup, our existence is meaningless, and there is no standard for right and wrong. Do you see how these follow each other? Ideas don’t exist by themselves. That’s why they have consequences. Ideas interlock and change how we view and explain the world and how we react to it. Everyone has a worldview, whether they realize it or not.

Society wants to say that each person is entitled to believe what he or she wants, but that those beliefs are private and have nothing to do with the “real world.” Religion has no place in the political sphere, they say. And yet, everyone has a worldview, and that worldview affects their decisions within the public realm. That is why it’s so important to analyze both your own worldview and others’–because ideas, manifesting themselves in actions, change the world.

 

What are some ideas you hold about the world? What are your answers to the five “big questions,” and can you see how they tie in with each other and influence actions in your life?

If all we give them is a ‘heart’ religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a ‘brain’ religion–training in worldview and apologetics–to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home.” — Nancy Pearcey 

Ruthless with ideas, gentle with people

Ruthless with ideas quote

Over the past month, I’ve been going through a course on worldviews and religions, and I’ve been learning a lot. But not just about religions themselves and the descriptions of different worldviews. No, I’ve been learning about people.

What is a worldview? Simply put, it’s the framework through which a person views the world. It is the set of ideas that guides their actions, attitudes, and opinions. Everyone has a worldview that shapes those things in their life, and so through studying worldviews, I’ve learned what’s behind people’s actions and beliefs. It’s helped me to better understand why the world is the way it is, and to understand the hearts of those around me.

Another thing this course has brought to my attention is how important it is that we can understand not only others’ worldviews, but also our own, and that we can defend our positions. As I touched on in my post on discussion, I believe one of the major reasons so many are leaving the church is because they do not truly know what they believe or how to defend it. This is why striving to understand worldviews is so important.

I’m not going to reteach Comparative Worldviews to y’all…at least not right now. For now, I’m going to focus on the quote at the beginning of the post, from Robert Sirico.

We must be ruthless with ideas, but gentle with people.

This simple quote has two parts instructing us on how to relate to two things prevalent in our lives. The first deals with ideas.

“We must be ruthless with ideas” is Sirico’s instruction. What does it mean to be ruthless with ideas? I believe it means to examine them critically. Pick them apart, find what they’re made of. Test them to see if they work logically and in the real world. Don’t just blindly accept things you hear! Be ruthless in scrutinizing an idea before you accept it.

The second part of this instruction is “[Be] gentle with people.” Wow. Completely the opposite of “ruthless,” right? Why so great a contrast? Simple. Ideas don’t have feelings. Humans do.

Oftentimes, we can get so caught up in the ruthlessly refuting part, brandishing our verbal swords, that we end up injuring a human being made in the image of God just as we ourselves were. We forget that it’s the ideas we’re to fight, not the people. It may seem difficult to ruthlessly attack an idea that someone holds to be true without attacking the person himself, and indeed, it may well be difficult. But you can firmly refute an idea without hurting a human being.

First, listen to them. Ask them what they believe, either in general or about the topic that has already been brought up, then really listen to what they have to say. And listen carefully, not waiting impatiently for your turn to jump in and argue. This helps in two ways: Primarily, it shows them you respect what they have to say, and secondly, it helps so you know what you’re up against. It won’t do you any good to fervently defend your belief in the existence of God if the person already believes in a God. Instead, it would be more helpful to know what they believe about God, and go from there.

Second, as you’re listening, get an idea of where they’re coming from. What is part of their life story that affected their beliefs? Listen with an open, compassionate heart. This will help you enormously when you finally open your mouth and begin to speak–it will help you keep in mind their humanity and tread carefully.

Finally, ask gentle but pointed questions to reveal fallacies and other problems with their beliefs. Calmly explain what you believe about the topic and why. Be willing to listen to questions or concerns they have with your position. Keep an attitude of humility and respect, and be willing to admit when you don’t have the answers–then go find them! It’s not a bad day when you are unable to answer a question, because now you know you have something to learn, and you’ll be better prepared next time.

It is possible to be ruthless with ideas while being gentle with people. It all comes down to your heart attitude and your willingness to listen. Don’t be afraid to contradict someone’s statements, but do so carefully and with meekness (1 Peter 3:15-16). Above all, remember to treat each person with honor, dignity, and respect, remembering you are both made in the image of God and imperfect creations.

What’s one way you try to have a “gentle, uplifting conflict” with others?